GR 249. Stage 24. Ronda - Estación de Benaoján
La Hoya del Tajo
The Hoya del Tajo (hoya meaning “a pot”) has been naturally excavated in the calcareous sandstones and conglomerates of the plateau of Ronda. They form an oval, wider in the north-south direction, with about 4 km2 of surface, slightly inclined towards the west. The fluvial erosion of the Guadalevín river built the landscape of La Hoya hollowing out the soft clays and letting the unstable compact sandstone collapse to create over 100 metre high walls. The path uses the old Camino del Campillos to walk down from Ronda. Lined with almond trees and paved with the sandstone from the Tajo, the path makes a sharp turn to the right, passing by the traditional access to the base of the Puente Nuevo, which hasn´t, however, been suitably improved though. Also it passes by the exit of two via ferrata of the Tajo, but it would be dangerous to venture out there without proper equipment.
At the next nearby junction you reach the Muralla de Albacara, walls made of rammed earth mixed with lime, from Moorish times, erected in order to accommodate livestock outside the walls of the city. There were two gates in these walls, Del Cristo (or Los Molinos), to the right, and Del Viento to the left, which is where the Gran Senda is headed. In a collapsed section of the wall you pass on one side you can see perfectly the layers of earth and putlog holes left in the wall by the wooden structure used to build it.
Beside the restored Puerta del Viento note the high monolith made of conglomerate rock rising towards the sky, showing a texture that is much thicker than the usual calcarenite limestone of the Tajo. Here, exactly in 500 metres, you enter the camino de los Molinos. This road was paved with the characteristic stones during the construction of the hydroelectric power of Ronda in the 1940´s, and this is where you are headed. The round stones that have been making up the walls on the way are now seen piled up on the side of the road and lining the sides of the path known as la Cuesta de Cachondeo (Joking Path).
There are some of the best views of the Puente Nuevo bridge and the walls of the Tajo gorge. Next you reach a junction on your left which leads to two restored mills of the 11 documente ones, which were abandoned in the first half of the 20th century due to some serious accidents and the new energy generating plant on the river. The proximity of the irrigation channels of the Guadalevín is noted by the presence of the fi rst gardens, once you passby the paved road that goes to the station and walk steeply down along the concrete track where you reach the watercourse of the Guadalevín river. There are certain times when the fl ow is so impressive that it may even discourage walkers from crossing the bridge. The river carries water directly from the Sierra de las Nieves.
The immediate ascent leads between orchards and walnut trees to a very particular house where a medieval tower has been preserved without having been plastered; a building model that recurs in many other properties along river valleys in Ronda. Then the walk ascends through vineyards, farmhouses and horse riding facilities until you reach one of the natural exits of la Hoya del Tajo called.
El Puerto de la Muela pass, where you get the best views over the path you have walked so far (km 3) and where the surface changes from concrete to gravel.
La Dehesa del Mercadillo and La Indiana
El Puerto de la Muella is an important intersection of many paths. Among others, two PR footpaths which come down from the north-western end of Ronda through Dehesa del Mercadillo, a wooded area of about 138 hectares of Stone pine with some Holm oak, which has been declared a suburban park.
The predominant direction is now westwards, leaving the park behind and reaching some old quarries and disused landfi lls in the vicinity of the Central de Transferencia de Residuos Sólidos de Ronda which you pass on a behind on your right. This is the right of way track called Cañada Real del Campo de Gibraltar which descends to La Indiana between livestock farms and the conspicuous chimney of an old distillery. Just before reaching the MA-7401 road, pass by on your right the old school Ermita Escuela; a modern construction which was been built thanks to the education projects of the Bishop Herrera Oria. Now the
school also serves as the headquarters of the very active Neighbours Association of La Indiana. The small group of village houses flanks the road. At kilometre 5 you leave the road behind to get back to the banks of the Guadalevín again.
El Río Guadiaro and the Camino Viejo
At the meeting of the rivers the walk starts veering south-west. The ruins of the railway station of La Indiana precede the level crossing (without barriers) of the Algeciras-Bobadilla train line. Once on the other side, you abandon the E-4 GR-7 ignoring the track to Montejaque. The walk leads parallel to the railway, the river and the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Cultivated farmland on a slope belongs to the Cortijo Grande and Cortijo de la Mimbre; the landscape seems to duplicate on the other side of the valley, topped with escarpments of sandstone and oak dehesa.
There is a tall ash tree near a water source which almost serves as a kilometre mark 7. Just 1,000 m ahead you should leave the track and take a scenic path. This begins at the famous Pasada de Gibraltar, a traditional transit place where it is easy to reach the river, only a few meters away beneath tall poplars. The river twists and turns a little to accommodate a ford which usually is equipped with a small rickety bridge thanks to the Legion who is the organiser of the annual race of 101 kilometres.
The first major climb starts here at the foot Sierra del Algarrobo, along a slope known as Los Pajarejos, covered with a dense scrub of retama, palm, olive trees and some Holm oaks. Lower down with every step, the ribbon of the river follows tightly the rocky walls while it is joined by the tributary flowing from the Cueva del Gato, which you can make out ahead and below the path. The path passes an unofficial and not adapted access to the cave on the left. Along the steepest escarpments the path is paved with stones and is supported by dry stone retaining walls. When you reach El Puerto de Ronda through olive groves, you will have walked 10 kilometres.
Benaoján, between the sierra and the river
Walk down to the Vega de Benaoján along a wide track with the old stone pavement buried under the concrete. There is a metal cover at a bend on your left, which is the protective cover of a small pit. Passing by the old landfill of Benaoján, almost disused now, come to La Vega, a recognizable karst uvala sinkhole crossed by the Arroyo de la Vega. The broad fi elds perpendicular to this track and old village barns have been replaced by new housing and some factories making Beoaoján´s famous cold cuts. As you arrive at the cemetery the track is asphalted again while it crosses the village from north to south, between kilometre 11 and 12 of the walk. Entering the long Avenida ignore the access roads to Montejaque and Cortes de la Frontera (MA-8401) on your right. The Avenida runs along both sides of the Plaza de la Constitución. Benaoján station can be accessed following the MA-7401. As you arrive at the Benaoján climbing school (Escuela de escalada) at the sign welcoming you to the village, on the other side of the road there is a pedestrian walkway, its access has not been fi nished as of 2014 in the time of writing.
Once you are on the landscaped and tiled walkway, you have a good view of the gray rocks which is now accessible not only to rock climbers, thanks to a via ferrata, a result of the Plan de Dinamización del Producto Turístico de la Serranía de Ronda, a project of la Diputación de Málaga. Right at the viewpoint above the Nacimiento de los Cascajales there is a fi nish point of another ferrata, in this case designed for children, starting at the river. The scenic pedestrian walkway ends in a second viewpoint where there is a drinking water fountain, with excellent views of the neighbourhood of Benaoján station. The GR takes a small path known as La Trocha to go down to the second in size village of the district. Just as you start walking down there is a small cottage which in the past was used to store coffi ns. Now it marks the turn off to the right which is the starting point of the children´s via ferrata. You arrive at the small square of the Estación de Benaoján between the buildings of the former central hydroelectric plant of the Serranía (whose reinforced pipeline you may have noticed coming down) and a sausage factory, as you walk along the train line.
1. Initiation Stage:
Access Starting point: Ronda can be reached from Málaga on A-367, from Costa del Sol on the A-366, on the A-374 from
Sevilla and from Algeciras on the A-369. Yu reach the old town in Ronda on the Calle Armiñán, which connects Puente Nuevo with the Barrio de San Francisco. In order to reach Plaza del Campillo you must follow the streets direction west.
Starting point: Plaza de María Auxiliadora or del Campillo, in the old part of Ronda known as La Ciudad, very close to Puente
Enjoy the walk safely: From km 4.6 walk about 300 metres along the road connecting Benaoján and Ronda, the
MA-7401, passing by the houses of La Indiana on either side. There is no hard shoulder in some sections. A little further you must cross the train line Algeciras-Bobadilla on an unprotected level crossing without automated barriers. This section of train tracks is straight and well visible but you must take extreme precautions in case of fog or rain and get information on the times of passing trains beforehand. Between Benaoján and la Estación there is a comfortable paved path but access to it, as you leave the village on the road, is still pending improvement (year 2014), the road has no hard shoulder and there are a few bends; this means walking must be done with extreme care. It wouldn´t be a bad idea to make yourselves highly visible with refl ective clothing and lights.
2. Completion of Stage:
Access to finish point: Access road to Estación de Benaoján from MA-7401.
Finish point: Estación de Benaoján, in the square close to the train station.
Possible "escape routes": Up to kilometre 4.5 you can reach the MA-7401 at the level of the La Indiana settlement, but actually the road is very close to the left of the walk, from km 3. On the other hand Benaoján is a very good place to stop walking, even though it is very close to the finish.
No return point: From la Pasada de Gibraltar onwards it is best to continue to Benaoján.
Connections to other footpaths and trails: The GR-249 and the GR-141 Gran Senda de la Serranía de Ronda join here and coincide both with their itineraries and their described walking direction. Amongst the Local Footpaths which leave from Ronda, the SL-A 38 (Ronda, Molinos del Tajo, Ronda) coincides almost entirely with the GR and separates from it at the Puerto de la Muela, where it turns back to Ronda through El Pinar de la Dehesa. Right at this point two PR footpath join the Gran Senda de Málaga, heading for Montejaque (PR-A 251) and Benaoján (PR-A 253). The fi rst one branches off the GR just past the level crossing and leads uphill. The second footpath shares the long track parallel to the Guadiaro river up to a point where at the Pasada de Gibraltar it splits off, crosses the river and then continues on its own, downstream. It´s a good option to get to the cave Cueva del Gato. Your good old friend the GR-7 E-4 makes another appearance during this stage coinciding with the PR-A 251. It is the second stage of the GR 7 in Malaga area, called Montejaque - Ronda, in other words, leading in opposite walking direction to the other two Gran Senda walks. At the Estación de Benaoján there is a Local Footpath of Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema to the Cueva Del Gato, the SL-A 139, which reaches the well-known cave just past the bridge. At the same starting point as the aforementioned walk there is another one leading in the opposite direction, downstream, the SL-A 138 Río Guadiaro, which also belongs to the footpath network of Espacio Natural Protegido.
As far as traditional right of way paths are concerned, you will walk, in that order, along the El Camino de los Molinos, Camino del Puerto de la Muela, Camino de Montejaque, Camino Viejo de Ronda and Camino del Río. Perhaps the most important one is the Cañada Real del Campo de Gibraltar, which coincides with the Gran Senda de Málaga between km 4 and 8, through La Indiana and with the long parallel track to the Guadiaro. This drover´s track lends its name to the Pasada de Gibraltar, a place surrounded by tall poplars where shepherds would cross the river with their flock.